Friday, 2 March 2001

Catherine Fox: Angels and Men (1995)

Edition: Penguin, 1997
Review number: 771

The name Mara, given by Fox to the heroine and narrator of her début novel, means bitterness; it is the name taken by Naomi in the Biblical story of Ruth, when the death of her husband left her effectively a beggar in a foreign land. As such it is a strange name to choose for a child, especially when one of the parents is in the clergy. It is, however, appropriate for the character at the particular time in her life dealt with in Angels and Men.

Mara is a student in a theological college of a northern university, not named but presumably Durham from the descriptions. She has a turbulent background, having rejected the mild Anglicanism of her father for an extreme charismatic cult, and then, rejecting them in turn, cut off from her beloved twin sister Hester who chose to remain with them. The novel basically follows Mara through the college year, as she makes friends despite a desire to keep to herself, which earns her the nickname Princess.

The novel is simply but effectively structured, with each chapter bringing in a new revelation about Mara's background and character. (This means that by the end we have a very well drawn study of a particular person indeed.) The intensity of her recent experiences - she has effectively come out of a mind controlling cult - makes Angels and Men an exciting if uncomfortable read.

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